The first section of the HSC English paper one requires students to analyse and answer questions on a range of texts, including poems, book extracts and visual texts. A visual text simply refers to some type of image, which can take the form of book covers, paintings, posters, movie frames, photographs and more. Typically, every English examination paper will contain at least one of these visual texts, and there are a range of specific techniques to analyse them, so this article aims to help to break down a few of these so students can carefully construct their analysis of visual texts with confidence.
Colour and Lighting
Colour and lighting are the most obvious techniques to observe first when analysing a visual text. This is because colours represent a range of different feelings and emotions, whilst lighting assist to enhance this. For example, the colour red is usually symbolic of lust and anger, whilst yellow is symbolic of happiness and optimism, and green can be associated with nature and life. Analysing the colours used in a visual text can therefore be helpful when determining the mood that is being conveyed towards the audience. Contrast can also be analysed when observing the colour of a visual text, for example contrasts between black and white, or dark and light colours, which in turn allows for things within the image to stand out based on their relevance and importance to the meaning of the text.
Salience and Vectors
Salience and vectors are also important components to be analysed in a visual text. The salient feature of a visual text refers to wherever the viewer’s eyes are drawn to first. This is always done deliberately and is essential to convey to viewers what part of the image is most important towards the overall meaning of the text. Salient features often take the form of a person, an animal or an important word that needs to stand out.
The vector is the feature of a visual text which the audience’s eyes will follow a path towards when viewing the image and is often the second most important area for viewing following the salient. Analysing the vector is essential when discussing a visual text as it usually provides a deeper meaning or understanding towards what is being conveyed in the image. For example, a salient feature of an image may be a crying women, whilst the vector may be a gravestone in the background, providing a deeper meaning to the story shown in the image; that the women is sad over the death of a loved one.
Gaze and Body Language
Gaze and body language are more advanced visual techniques that students should try to use when analysing a visual text to present higher standard answers that will stand out to the markers. Gaze referrers to the direction in which a character is looking within the image, which in turn directs where the audience will subsequently look. There are different terms used to describe different gazes, for example an ‘offer’ gaze refers to the character looking towards another area in the image, which is usually important for viewers to follow when understanding the importance and meaning of features being presented. A ‘demand’ gaze refers to the characters eyes making direct contact with the eyes of the audience, such as the famous Mona Lisa painting by Leonardo da Vinci, which is often important when analysing the mood and emotions of a character based on their facial expression. This is linked to body language, as the gestures and positioning of a character can convey meaning regarding their attitude and personality. For example, a slouched over woman with her head tilted down, gazing towards the floor may be experiencing sadness or grief.
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